“A rigid system of selection through the elimination of those who are weak or unfit — in other words social failures — would solve the whole question in 100 years, as well as enable us to get rid of the undesirables who crowd our jails, hospitals and insane asylums. The individual himself can be nourished, educated and protected by the community during his lifetime, but the state through sterilization must see to it that his line stops with him, or else future generations will be cursed with an ever increasing load of misguided sentimentalism. This is a practical, merciful and inevitable solution of the whole problem, and can be applied to an ever widening circle of social discards, beginning always with the criminal, the diseased and the insane, and extending gradually to types which may be called weaklings rather than defectives, and perhaps ultimately to worthless race types.”The “whole problem” that Madison Grant wrote about in the 1916 book that made him a hero in the burgeoning America eugenics movement, “The Passing of the Great Race” boiled down to blood. Years earlier in his own racist book, “Blood of a Nation,” Stanford president David Starr Jordan had argued that human qualities and conditions, like being a good piano player or being stuck in poverty, were simply passed through the blood stream. Grant, a New York lawyer and conservationist, picked up this so-called scientific discovery and ran with it in “The Passing,” which quickly became the bedrock text for the crusade spreading across the nation and, especially, California. When the Nazis were coming to power in Germany in the late 1920s, Adolf Hitler personally wrote to Grant that “the book is my Bible.” But the soon-to-be dictator of the Third Reich wasn’t the only prominent individual utterly taken with the idea of human eugenics, with its dark core of scientific racism.John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of corn flakes with his brother William Keith Kellogg, proclaimed the human gene pool would be severely damaged by non-whites and the new wave of Southern European immigrants coming to America. So in 1906, he cofounded the Race Betterment Foundation, which became a major advocacy center for the fledgling movement just getting off the ground in the United States.Luther Burbank, the botanist and horticulturist who developed more than 800 strains and varieties of plants, also took an interest in human eugenics. “The human weed should be removed and the unfit members of the community should be prevented from propagating their kind,” he stressed.President, Nobel Prize winner and early conservationist Theodore Roosevelt once declared, “Society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind.”Margaret Sanger, who popularized the term “birth control” and founded organizations that became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, spoke of the “human waste” of society. “Fostering the good-for-nothing at the expense of the good is an extreme cruelty.…There is no greater curse to posterity than that of bequeathing them an increasing population of imbeciles.”And then there was the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes. Twenty-one-year-old Carrie Buck had been diagnosed as “feeble minded” and “immoral” because she’d had an illegitimate child. Dr. James Bell was petitioning to sterilize her in 1927, because both her mother and baby girl, Vivian, were also said to be mentally deficient. With an eight-to-one vote, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Dr. Bell and against the young mother. Chief Justice Holmes wrote the majority opinion, with words that came back to haunt the famous jurist: “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind….Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”‘Degenerates’ and ‘feeble minded’Indiana was the first state to enact compulsory sterilization laws in 1907. But California quickly followed two years later, and eventually some 30 other states passed similar statues. Throughout the Roaring 20s and well into the 1930s, sterilizations steadily climbed in the Golden State, peaking in 1939 when 848 women and men at nine state hospitals had reproductive surgery. From 1909 to the 1960s, an estimated 20,000 Californians were forced to be sterilized. California residents, in fact, made up one-third of the 60,000 Americans who went under the surgeon’s scalpel to stop them from propagating.The selection criteria for compulsory sterilization was spurious at best.One historian wrote that “Individuals were labeled ‘degenerate’ or ‘feeble minded’ based on dirty clothing or an unkempt appearance. Children were labeled ‘imbecile’ based on a glance from across the room.” Morally suspect women were sterilized because of their deemed abnormally large clitorises. Mexicans and Mexican Americans, Blacks and other minorities, as well as the poor, the mentally ill in state asylums or on the street along with prisoners in city, county or state institutions were targeted. Paul Popence was the chief researcher for the prestigious Human Betterment Foundation based in Pasadena. He observed that “in modern civilizations, where the weak and helpless are protected so carefully, it is not possible to depend on Nature to solve this problem of the survival of the unfit….Sterilization was seen to be not a punishment but a protection, alike to the afflicted and their families, to society, and to posterity.”And those Californians belonging to the Human Betterment Foundation and the local branch of the American Eugenics Society — who wanted even stricter eugenic laws passed — were not weirdoes on the fringe of their communities. They were prominent doctors, businessmen, social scientists, academics, philanthropists and journalists. In other words, these mostly wealthy white men were among the era’s most progressive movers-and-shakers. The owner of the Los Angeles Times, Harry Chandler, often used his powerful paper to champion eugenics in the 1920s, ’30s and early ’40s. The popular “Social Eugenics” column focused on over-population, birth control, venereal disease, marital exams and, most of all, the critical importance of sterilization. Columnist Fred Hogue liked to encourage his readers to take into account the “fate of those yet unborn” and always be competent breeders. He gave practical advice about how not to pass on negative heredity traits to a family’s next generation. But the newspaperman also wasn’t adverse to chiding the government for not breaking “the chain of heredity degeneration” once and for all. With its growing immigration restrictions, scientific racism theorists and pioneer plant breeders like Luther Burbank, California was fertile ground for the human eugenics movement, especially when it came to female sterilization. In her book “Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America,” Alexandra Stern writes that early 20th-century eugenicists were “motivated by deep-seated preoccupations about gender and female sexuality.” And their favorite focus was on young women categorized as “immoral,” “loose” or simply “unfit for motherhood.”Stern, in fact, concludes that “Eugenicists shaped modern California — its geography, inhabitants and institutions — through agricultural experimentation, nature and wildlife preservation, medical intervention, psychological surveys, municipal and state legislation, and infant and maternal welfare.”America’s ‘ethnic cleansing’ inspired HitlerThe author of “War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race” acknowledges, of course, that in their quest for a “Master Race,” Hitler and his henchmen used human eugenics theory to back up the extermination of millions of “defective” people. “But the concept of a white, blond-haired, blue-eyed master Nordic race didn’t originate with the Furer,” Edwin Black points out. “The idea was created in the United States, and cultivated in California, decades before Hitler came to power. California eugenicists played an important, although little known, role in the American eugenics movement’s campaign for ethnic cleansing.”He adds that “Hitler studied American eugenic law. He tried to legitimize his anti-Semitism by medicalizing it, and wrapping it in the more palatable pseudoscientific fa√ßade of eugenics. Hitler was able to recruit more followers among reasonable Germans by claiming that science was on his side. While Hitler’s race hatred sprung from his own mind, the intellectual outlines of the eugenics Hitler adopted in 1924 were made in America.” In short, it was only after the United States became entrenched in human eugenics that it was really embraced by the pre-World War II Third Reich. And for that daunting European transplantation, leaders and backers of the U.S. eugenics movement provided plenty of help.California eugenicists readily shared their research with Germans. A noted Nazi eugenicist, Fritz Lenz, wrote to the Human Betterment Foundation, “You were so kind to send…new information about the sterilization particulars in California….These practical experiences are also very valuable for us in Germany. For this I thank you.”And besides Hitler himself writing to American eugenicist Madison Grant to gush about how much he liked “The Passing of the Great Race,” Hermin Goring, Hitler’s designated successor, also admired Grant and his scientific racism work a lot. What the Nazi high command found especially appealing was the way Grant favored negative over positive eugenic solutions. Instead of trying to simply breed the best stock in a society, he thought eliminating the worst led to better long-term results. Hitler took this to the extreme with the Holocaust, killing more than six million Jews, one million Gypsies and hundreds of thousands of mentally ill and physically disabled people. Catholics were also judged to be inferior and, therefore, also suffered periodic exterminations.Moreover, U.S. philanthropies helped to found and fund the new Nazi eugenics movement. The Carnegie Institution, Harriman railroad fortune and Rockefeller Foundation each provided heavy financing to Germany’s fledgling programs. The latter philanthropy funded many German eugenic institutes and researchers, including an early endowment to Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer. His medical assistant happened to be Josef Mengele. The so-called “Angel of Death” would become infamous for his grotesque experiments on identical twin children in the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. A favorite test was injecting their brown eyes with blue dye to try to change the pigmentation, before killing them and dissecting their small bodies. Why it stopped, or did it?Towards the end of World War II, state-sanctioned compulsory human sterilizations supposedly stopped suddenly in the United States. Americans were shocked and repulsed by newsreels of U.S. troops liberating concentration camps to find stacks of dead bodies that hadn’t made it to the ovens. Almost overnight, eugenics took on this horrendous Nazi connection. At the same time, claims that “moral delinquency,” “feeble mindedness,” “sexual promiscuity” and other bad human traits believed to be inherited were scientifically debunked. Still, human eugenics continued in many states into the 1960s. California, the movement’s leader, didn’t get around to legally banning forced sterilization until 1979. And it wasn’t until 1994 that medical officials in Sacramento had to approve case-by-case any sterilizations in state prisons.So at last the Golden State had finally shut the door on its horrific legacy of forced human sterilization, right?Wrong.This past July, the prestigious Center for Investigative Reporting released a report that from 2006 to 2010 at least 148 women inmates at two state prisons — the California Institution for Women in Corona and Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, which has been turned into a men’s prison — were sterilized without the required state approvals. Some former inmates and the prison advocacy group “Justice Now” claim the prisoners were coerced into having tubal ligation surgeries. Furthermore, they report women judged likely to return to prison as well as women with many children and C-section surgeries were specifically targeted by prison doctors and contracted OB-GYN (obstetric gynecology) specialists.Corey Johnson, who conducted the in-depth investigation, told The Tidings, “I had no idea of the scale and scope of California’s [sterilization] program.”Headlines from July newspaper stories and editorials wailed: “Eugenics are alive and well in the United States,” “Eugenics back in California” and “A crime in time — and again.”Members of the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee on Aug. 22 unanimously agreed that the unauthorized sterilization of female inmates be investigated. The committee asked the state auditor’s office to make the study its highest priority.So how could human eugenics possibly be happening again today — in the United States, in California?Author and researcher Alexandra Stern sheds some light by maintaining, “It is nearly impossible to traverse the fraught intersection of race, reproduction, sexuality and gender … without reckoning with eugenics.”Or maybe Madison Grant’s vitriolic words still find favor with at least some segments of today’s super-secular American society: "Mistaken regard for what are believed to be divine laws and a sentimental belief in the sanctity of human life tend to prevent both the elimination of defective infants and the sterilization of such adults as are themselves no value to the community. The laws of nature require the obliteration of the unfit, and human life is valuable only when it is useful to the community or the race.” Readers with any firsthand knowledge of modern-day sterilization — especially in California prisons or jails — please contact staff writer Bob Dellinger at (213) 637-7490 or [email protected]. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/1011/sterilization/{/gallery}